Mobilizing knowledge to fight sexual violence and promote equity

Knowledge mobilization
Awards and recognition
Research and innovation

By University of Ottawa

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

Professors Charlotte Karam and Anne Levesque
Professors Charlotte Karam and Anne Levesque
The 2021–2022 Excellence in Knowledge Mobilization Award has been given to Professors Charlotte Karam and Anne Levesque, whose respective research projects have a direct, positive impact on equity- and justice-seeking groups.

“We wish to highlight the importance of breaking down research silos and encouraging use of research beyond the scholarly community by giving this award, for the fourth consecutive year, to professors who have distinguished themselves through their work broadening horizons,” says Sylvain Charbonneau, vice-president, research and innovation. “This year, our recipients have made their name through outstanding research that has allowed the communities they collaborate with to make informed decisions on topical political issues.”

Advocating for anti-sexual harassment legislation

The #MeToo movement, which started in the U.S. in 2017, has given a voice to victims of sexual violence around the world. While legal proceedings have increased as a result, the fight against sexual violence and harassment still remains a considerable challenge.

Karam, director of the Executive MBA program at the Telfer School of Management, studies workplace sexual harassment in the Middle East and North Africa. She applies a critical feminist perspective to institutional decision-making concerning key workplace problems such as power relationships and sexual harassment.

“For too long, the burden of overcoming structural barriers has been placed on the shoulders of the women themselves,” says Karam. That’s why, in 2018, we established the Center for Inclusive Business and Leadership (CIBL) for Women, which brings together activists, academics, experts and professionals who wish to ensure women’s appropriate participation at the departmental, organizational and national levels.”

Training to counter workplace
Training to counter workplace sexual harassment is offered to employees of the Lebanese company Beesline.

Karam works with partners to meet their shared goal of mobilizing to implement laws, regulations and special measures to protect against sexual exploitation and abuse in the workplace, particularly in Lebanon.

“Knowledge mobilization to protect human rights against gender-based violence is always a politicized undertaking,” says Karam. “What we did in Lebanon was to make employers aware of a recently-passed law criminalizing sexual harassment, and to encourage them to strengthen their support for this law.”

The knowledge mobilization efforts of Karam and her partners bore fruit in Lebanon: over 80 employers received training to counter workplace sexual harassment, 13 anti-sexual harassment policies with implementation strategies were developed and 17 employers publicly committed themselves to the new law.

Access to justice by and for equity-seeking groups      

For many legal experts and academics, access to justice means access to a lawyer or to the courts. However, there is an emerging movement that questions the traditional role of lawyers in public interest litigation and conventional approaches to the practice of law to further social justice.

Levesque, a professor in the Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, argues for this more holistic vision of justice in her research. She believes it’s important to mobilize a range of community strategies to further change. That’s why, in 2019, she established the Equality Law Legal Clinic. Supported by her students, she assists equity-seeking groups (Indigenous communities and individuals, youth, persons with a disability, women, members of environmental groups) so they can define for themselves their vision of access to justice and implement it.

Professor Levesque and the clinic team
Professor Levesque and the clinic team

“There’s a constant sharing and feedback loop between the clinic team and the equity-seeking groups we work with,” says Levesque. “When we conduct legal research, we immediately share our conclusions with these groups, and then we discuss the impact of our results on their strategic goals and vision of access to justice and the different ways we can make them real.”

In 2020, the clinic worked with Professor Eva Ottawa and the Council of the Atikamekw Nation in Manawan, the home community of Joyce Echaquan, the Atikamekw woman who was a victim of systemic racism shortly before her death. “We wanted Joyce’s story to be known the world over and for Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples to be a topic of international discussion,” says Levesque. “Based on the research conducted by the clinic, Professor Ottawa and her research assistant, the council asked us to file a complaint with five UN special rapporteurs to let them know about the human rights violations Joyce experienced before her death. The complaint, drafted by clinic students, made national headlines.”

The end result was very satisfying for the Council of the Atikamekw, which was pleased that a new federal minister of Indigenous services was named, with a mandate to implement what is known as “Joyce’s Principle.”

In addition to the Excellence in Knowledge Mobilization Awards, five knowledge mobilization grants were awarded to the following University of Ottawa research centres and institutes:

Learn more about uOttawa research centres and institutes.